When I was in high school at Littlefield, Texas, a boy was occasionally seen in the corridors who I did not ever see in my classes. His head was a grayish purple color, irregularly shaped, and at least twice the size of a normal person’s head. I understood that he was a student at the school who studied his lessons at home and came to the school to receive and turn in assignments, and take care of necessary administrative tasks. I believe his appearance was likely the result of Proteus syndrome, a very rare condition John Merrick, the subject of the movie “The Elephant Man,” suffered in the 1800’s.
Can a person so afflicted glorify God in his body? “You are bought with a price,” Paul wrote to his Christian friends at Corinth, “therefore glorify God in your body.” He had explained that human bodies are the dwelling of the Holy Spirit, and that, having been purchased for God’s own possession, we do not belong to ourselves. This passage is sometimes thought to forbid sexual sins which, taking root in the heart and mind, are specifically performed in the body. Rightly so, for within the context, Paul warns them to flee immorality, writing “Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.”
But does glorifying God in our bodies reach beyond avoiding certain kinds of sins? More likely, glorifying God in the body takes a multitude of forms. People around us who suffer extreme misfortune through harsh illnesses or even the humiliating infirmities of old age inspire those more fortunate by bearing their plight bravely, praising, not blaming, God. A person so afflicted might glorify God more powerfully than an athlete in the prime of life. Glorifying God in the body has nothing to do with physique and conditioning. And it may be exhibited in ways that have nothing to do with illness, including a sustained virtuous daily life of witness for Christ.
I do not say that God deliberately sends calamity just so we will glorify him by enduring it faithfully. But trouble comes. We have his faithful promise that he will not permit our endurance to be overtaxed. We may never fully comprehend God’s purposes and acts--how he allows severe suffering while limiting it to our endurance, or why one suffers greatly while another seems to be spared. But Job’s experience reveals, in one instance, what lay behind human suffering—to show that suffering would not cause a faithful sufferer to turn away from God.
In fact, dying can be to God’s glory. Before ascending to heaven, Jesus told Peter, “when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.” Jesus so spoke “signifying by what kind of death he (Peter) would glorify God.” Peter was to glorify God in the manner of his dying! As Jesus prepared for his arrest he prayed, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify you.” Glorify how? By suffering horribly and dying for the unworthy. Numberless persecuted and martyred Christians glorified God by literally giving their bodies as a living sacrifice.
The question is often asked, “Why do the righteous suffer?” At least in part, we may know the answer. The things we tend to complain most about, and doubt or blame God for allowing, may be the very things that equip us best to glorify God in our bodies.